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5 Tips to Ignite Powerful Conversations Around Mental Health and BIPOC

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With the global health pandemic still in full swing in most countries around the world, many are feeling the mental health impacts that isolation and a world full of uncertainty fuels.

On top of this, over the course of 2020, new movements brought forward the need to talk about issues surrounding diversity and inclusion as well as the importance of amplifying the voices of marginalized and BIPOC communities. With these two major events influencing our social and organizational cultures, it’s time to talk about BIPOC mental health. How can we address mental health issues that the BIPOC community faces specifically and how can we approach the important conversations we need to feel empowered to have in the workplace? On behalf of our experts, here are a few tips on how this can be done:

Identify the specific issues BIPOC communities face.
First thing’s first – what do we know about the BIPOC community and the specific race-related mental health issues they encounter? We know that systemic racism and discrimination can take a toll on mental health. BIPOC identifying employees may experience racial trauma, which is a result of racism, bias or even exposure to racism presented in the media. Just like any trauma, symptoms might appear in the form of difficulties concentrating, inability to feel safe and secure or struggles with interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Everyone’s story is different though and every BIPOC member may have various experiences so we could start by asking about these stories. Cultural stress is another challenge the BIPOC community faces which may manifest through anxiety and depression or be expressed with anger or frustration. The element of stigma and the fear of being judged, as well as access to support are other factors to consider when understanding the specific challenges the BIPOC community faces.

Understand how culture impacts understanding of mental health.
Various cultures have a different approach to understanding and talking about mental health. In some cultures, it’s more encouraged to be open and showing your vulnerability is better accepted. In others, we might hear that being vulnerable in public is shameful. Because of the stigma associated with speaking up about mental health, minorities may often find themselves struggling alone. Traditional beliefs and value systems will influence the way we approach mental health topics and being aware of these differences will help guide the necessary conversations in the workplace.

Create an environment with psychological safety.
For leaders, creating a psychologically safe environment means creating a safe space where employees feel empowered to speak candidly about their own opinions, thoughts, ideas, challenges and more. This creates the foundation for inclusion and allows employee diversity to be valued within an organization. To progress, mutual learning is critical and can only be done in a psychologically safe environment full of candor. Performance improves as well when this kind of environment is well established and will enable open discussions around mental health should it become a concern. Know the difference between diversity, inclusion and belonging and how to foster this. When an employee feels “included” and the organization he/she works for prioritizes inclusion, it is a direct result of psychological safety and the elimination of fear to speak their truths.

Acknowledge your own struggles.
As a leader, conversations around mental health will start when you help eliminate the stigmas by speaking up about your own struggles. Employees will look to you to start the discussion if they don’t feel comfortable starting their own conversations. Admitting vulnerability and being open about your own journey will ignite openness and foster better understanding between employees. Recognize that mental health is health and if we feel comfortable communicating about physical health issues, we should apply this same logic to mental health issues as well. Vulnerability is courageous and as a leader, it’s okay to be vulnerable – it’s a sign of strength, not weakness.

Promote any resources publicly within the workplace.
It’s important to highlight resources available to all and those that specifically target the BIPOC community in the workplace. Encourage employees to seek help if they need it, beyond just a casual conversation. If you’re using a therapist, let people know. Therapists can help address many challenges from fear of public speaking to racial injustices and trauma. When you openly share that you’re seeking help if this is the case, others will find more comfort in approaching you with their own issues. Consider MindBeacon’s Workplace Mental Health Program which provides employees access to internet-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (iCBT) through its Therapist Guided Program. The Program is best suited for those who prefer not to schedule fixed appointments - employees can just use secure text-based messaging to access their therapist anytime and anywhere, while using customized programs specifically designed to address each individual’s needs.

For more information on how to support a BIPOC workforce with their mental health challenges, contact us at any time.